The Pro Vice Chancellor (Programs and Pathways) along with the Widening Participation Unit hosted a second HEPPP Lunch and Learn workshop for 2019, to connect our community of practice with exploring the challenges and opportunities faced by students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

While the most prevalent form of disadvantage remains financial, another key and compounding challenge is the isolation created by distance and remoteness from social resources such as access to educational learning. The workshop, titled “Engaging Students with Opportunity” focused on engaging our community of equity practitioners with stakeholders directly involved in delivering opportunity to students from regional, rural and remote areas facing multiple, structural challenges.  

Our guest speakers included Virginia Cluff, from the NSW Department of Education; Juliet Petersen, Acting CEO, Country Education Foundation of Australia and Brian Hurd, Manager, Scholarships and Prizes Unit, Macquarie University. Widening Participation has long standing partnerships with the NSW Department of Education, the Country Education Foundation of Australia and the Scholarships and Prizes Unit. We collaborate on several LEAP programs, including LEAP Links Aurora Master Classes, LEAP LINKS Digital Literacy, LEAP Links – Robots (in the Outback) and Equity Scholarships – including accommodation scholarships and various grants. (Scholarships and Prizes Unit)

Both Virginia and Juliet are from regional NSW and shared the experiences commonly faced by students, families and communities in these areas of financial hardship, distance and limited access to educational resources and information; and how these challenges are compounded by the severity and persistence of drought. Both are passionate advocates for the importance and transformative impact that educational opportunities offer individuals and their communities. Importantly, they maintain that students need engagement to build their capacity to explore learning opportunities. Strategies to mitigate the challenges of distance include fostering students to participate in connected digital learning communities (such as those created via Aurora College), a commitment to teacher professional development, especially technology (including the Technology for Learning, T4L program), employability and career skills; and a whole of community approach to nurturing students to feel supported to remain engaged with learning (Country Education Foundation of Australia).

Brian provided supportive evidence on the positive impact that scholarships have on student participation, once at university. Scholarships play an important role in supporting students to engage in higher education learning, particularly students who are transitioning from regional/rural and remote areas to pursue study. However, beyond alleviating financial hardship and allowing students to feel financially stable, scholarships also allow students to feel valued as individuals, boosting their confidence and motivation to better cope with academic responsibilities, as well as helping them with well-being and fostering a sense of belonging.

Engaging regional, rural and remote students with educational opportunities, pathways, financial support and expansive career outlooks create sum plus benefits that build an individual’s potential, but also helps grow regional, rural and remote areas.

If you’d like more information on how Widening Participation engages with regional, rural and remote students, please get in contact with us!

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Linkedin: Widening Participation at Macquarie University

Posted by Carolina Morison

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